By Carmen K. Sisson
“You’re not going to pitch the story?”
“I thought the point was to make money.”
“It’s a labor of love. My project, my vision, my control.”
“No wonder you’re always broke.”
I wish I could explain what it’s like when the words vanish. The way I pace the floor and smoke, wondering if I will ever write again. The way I stare into the refrigerator’s maw, seeking something, anything to fill the gnawing hunger. The way I summon demons and call on angels, losing myself in a co-mingled litany of recrimination and reassurance. The way I lie in bed and stare at the ceiling, hands pressed flat to my stomach to hold myself down, together, in, while fear takes flight.
It does no good to tell me all writers are this way, because I know the whitewashed truth: Journalists don’t have the leisure of writer’s block, and besides, writer’s block doesn’t exist; it’s a made-up malady afflicting the lazy, of which I am the worst of the worst and then some.
I won’t talk about the steel gray fog, the scalpel’s edge wrapped in surgeon’s gauze. I won’t talk about the mute desolation, the scoured inner landscape so alien in its resolute sterility. Instead, I say the world seems drained of color, and I wince at the contempt, the unspoken accusation: Oh, it’s that depressive thing again.
But it’s not. It’s the writing. Always, always, the writing.
If I had the insanity to look insane, I’d parallel the end of writer’s block to a near-death experience. I’d talk about the white light of nothingness and the hand of God casting me from that silent land, back into the cacophony of ideas.
“It’s like artificial defibrillation,” I’d say, my voice thin, my tongue thick. “I feel my soul slamming home.”
Lost in the stream of solitary experience, my words would fall faster.
“Have you ever been close to drowning? So far beneath the water that you can’t hear people calling you, so far inside the deep that black is the only real? You want to stay there until your lungs burn and stars form in your eyes, until every neuron screams, driving you upwards in one awesome, desperate, final gulp for life. The sun sears your retinas as you hit the surface, and the colors make you dizzy-sick because — almost-lost, now-found — they’re suddenly too beautiful to bear. That’s what it’s like.”
I say none of this, of course.
I talk about how Adam and all his house cats will cover the fifth anniversary of Katrina this week. How I wondered what I could lend to the narrative spine of something so much bigger than myself. How I thought of pitching this story, that one, rejected them both. I talk about how it hit me suddenly what I should do. How I’ll return to the places I went before — the fire station, the police department, the high school, the tiny little town where I locked the keys in my trunk and became the guest of honor for a party of water moccasins.
“It has to be multimedia,” I say, gaining momentum. “Audio overlaid with before and after images. Maybe some of my pre-eviction video interspliced. Perspective and co-perspective. Loss brought full circle. Actually, I don’t quite know about that part yet. Might not work.”
He’s looking at me as if I’ve sprouted seven polka-dotted horns. I’m over-talking, a hamster on a greased wheel, Chatty Cathy on speed.
“I know it sounds crazy,” I explain, sentences tripping over one another like errant children. “It’s writing. Words disappear and ideas won’t come and then suddenly they do and it’s all okay again.”
“I think you should pursue that TIME thing,” he says slowly. “They seem to pay well.”
An hour later, I’m at my computer, fighting the slow mold of inertia.
I want to race outside, banging the door behind me. I want to say what I never say: It’s not about the money — never was, never will be. There are stories only I can tell, a way I see the world, a core set of values that guides my hands and channels my work. I feel so lost sometimes, so directionless, so rootless. I feel so strong sometimes, so solid, so certain that this is why my heart continues to beat, why I bother to wake up and breathe.
I listen to music, and that centers me. I breathe deeply, counting beads on an azure prayer rope, meditating on ancient words until I feel equilibrium return.
I open my eyes. My feet are on the floor and my fingers rest easy on the keys, patiently waiting.
And in this moment, this sliver of time between wet, wriggling concept and naked, screaming birth, I am whole again.